Re-thinking ‘Generation Wuss’: Why Millennials aren’t so bad

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In my first job after grad school I had a desk in a pod of cubicles I shared with three white-haired newspaper reporters, all of them approaching retirement age.

I was in my early 30s at the time, smug and ambitious and thoroughly disappointed to find myself at a small daily newspaper in a small manufacturing town that had fallen on hard times.

It’s not that I felt entitled to success; I was simply frustrated not to have found it after an expensive education and years of paying my dues at smaller publications in even smaller towns.

My colleagues had been in this business forever — one apprenticed out of high school, another went to community college, and another landed there after working at a country-and-western radio station.

They were all capable reporters and — with one exception — insufferable editors.

They ridiculed my copy over the smallest details, most of which were not germane to the topic at hand.

They enjoyed dressing me down, not with unassailable logic and facts, but with the only instrument they knew how to use: The power their seniority afforded them.

I don’t blame them for that.

They were part of a generation being phased out of journalism through layoffs and buyouts, in favour of younger people with multimedia skills who knew how to use an iPhone.

“Millennials!” my most ornery colleague lamented over his landline more than once.

They’re the worst! he thought but didn’t say.

I knew he wasn’t really angry with Millennials. He was angry because nearly every skill he acquired over the previous few decades was becoming obsolete.

My presence in that newsroom was a threat, not only to his job security but to his sense of himself.

Anyone would grow hostile under that kind of pressure. I genuinely sympathized with him. If he wasn’t such a jerk about it, I’d have been on his side.

He seized on any perceived weakness and stifled my attempts to level with him. Being agreeable hurt my fortunes, so I hardened myself and left him alone.

Within a couple of years, he and another of my colleagues were laid off. I haven’t stayed in touch with the third, but he appears to be back in radio at least part-time.

That pod of cubicles was a toxic place, and when it became obvious it would not get better any time soon, I left.

Millennials! Scourge of the Earth! Worst Generation Ever!

 Never mind it was their generation that raised us or, in some cases, raised our parents.

It’s our fault they treated us as they did. We’re to blame for way we’ve turned out.

Coddled, indulged, sheltered and spoiled. Yes, we were children at the time, clueless and beholden to the people who watched over us, but still.

We really should have known better. We shouldn’t have let them let this happen.

***

The most telling difference between my generation and that of my colleagues was how we settled debates.

When a fact was in dispute I googled it immediately, found a credible source and thought that would settle the matter.

My colleagues preferred to discuss it at length and then acquiesce to the wisest in the bunch. My antagonist appeared to have assumed the role of Wise Man No. 1.

He kept a massive, ancient, tattered dictionary next to his desk and referred to it when we quibbled over the definition of a word.

One day, someone asked if biannual meant every other year, or twice a year. It was technically the latter, but sometimes the former.

I discovered this by plugging it into word.com, the website (and most recent version) of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Also through word.com, I discovered the wor I thought my colleague should use to describe something that happened every other year. It was biennial.

He didn’t like that I discovered this on the Internet before he could find it in his book.

This was another sign his methods were going the way of the dodo. It implied he was not as wise as he was perceived to be.

It was another reason to resent me, and to try and get me fired. He did everything he could to get under my skin, hoping I would eventually break.

And I eventually did, but our company laid him off long before I quit.

***

Bret Easton Ellis, the author of American Psycho, was born in Los Angles on March 7, 1964. There was no Internet then, no Instagram and no Twitter.

It was 20 years before the birth of Mark Zuckerberg and 40 years before the birth of Facebook. It was, if you happened to be a privileged white male, not a terrible time to be alive.

According to a short piece in the current issue of Esquire, Ellis had his first meaningful exposure to Millenials through a live-in boyfriend born in the mid-1980s.

“I noticed this general wussiness in him and his friends that shocked me and that my male friends, at a comparative age decades ago, simply did not have,” Ellis told the magazine.

“I was shocked at what they were frightened of, and what they were offended by. To a hard-bitten whatever, Generation X, it seemed ludicrous.”

His disdain was such that Ellis coined the term “Generation Wuss,” apparently pushing it out on Twitter and his podcast.

The purpose of his interview with Esquire was to promote his first non-fiction book, White — the working title was reportedly White Privileged Male — which laments the fragility of the millennial generation in all the usual ways.

We are over-sensitive and entitled and made worse by the medications foisted on us as children or teens.

White is not a deep or nuanced analysis but doesn’t pretend to be,” the magazine says.

“It’s simply one man laying into what annoys him in all its myriad manifestations. Along the way, he demonstrates that sometimes the bluntest instrument is the most effective, sometimes the most superficial reading is the right one.”

Which is an odd way of justifying a book that, according to this review, simply restates a series of clichés.

The kids aren’t all right.

We all know how and why.

But just for fun, let’s go over it one more time.

***

As a kid, I was taught to be respectful and kind. I was taught to stick up for others and to stand up for what was right.

Life was not only a gift, but an obligation to make something of myself. My parents, both Baby Boomers, gave me the best head start they could.

They ensured I never went hungry and always had a roof over my head. We never went to fancy places on vacation, but we’ve been to the east coast of Canada and to Vancouver Island.

Mom and Dad were thrifty, frugal and strict; yet always compassionate and often kind. I never doubted the fact they loved me, and I understood their strictness was a manifestation of love, not a contradiction.

They helped me through college and bought me my first car. When I graduated, I moved back in with them for a couple of years so I could save money.

Mom and Dad were always when I needed them. They were sympathetic to my angst and would listen to me rant about the various ways life was not fair.

If I needed a kick in the pants, they ensured I received it.

My parents also taught me it was OK to cry. In fact, it was healthy and good.

So, I cried a lot when I was a kid, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes over trivial things.

I was sensitive, probably over-sensitive. I was the quintessential wuss in Generation Wuss.

But unlike my colleagues in that small, suffering newsroom, I do not see vulnerability as a sign of weakness. I see sensitivity as an asset, not a liability.

Millennials see the world differently than generations before them and — not to be a dick about it, but that’s how it’s always been.

We’re not the worst, and we’re not the best. We know success doesn’t come easily, and we know hard work does not always overcome hard luck.

Honestly, we’re doing the best we can with the tools at our disposal.

It’s not easy. It’s never been easy.

And bashing one another has never been constructive, so let’s move the discussion to higher ground.

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